Though the priesthood was a late vocation for the Rev. Henry J. Dahl (b 1941), pictured at left, he found himself involved in the arduous — if ultimately rewarding — challenge of church building within four years of his ordination in 1996. After helping the Rev. Marcel Bouchard construct a new home for Corpus Christi in East Sandwich, Father Dahl might reasonably have expected that he’d had his once-in-a-priest’s-lifetime experience in church development. Perhaps he imagined that his principal task when called to the pastorate of St. Peter’s in 2002 would be the maintenance and conservation of a building at 11 Prince Street that had after all been standing stoutly for 130 years; defying the Portland Gale and the Hurricane of 1938, among other onslaughts.
Provincetown offers nothing if not surprises, however. Only three years into his service on the lower Cape, Father Dahl was confronted — overnight in the dead of winter — with the worst catastrophe to befall the parish. St. Peter’s burned to the ground. And it fell to him to rebuild. Two-and-a-half years later, the deed was done, to designs by Tom Palanza of Mansfield, an architect and a deacon of the church.
Contributing to the difficulties that any builder would have faced, Father Dahl and Palanza stirred up criticism from neighbors and preservationists with their decision to locate the new church far back on the property, set behind a large parking lot rather than behind a short front yard on Prince Street. They further proposed to move the rectory back to join the church.
These plans guaranteed a much easier experience for those arriving at church by car, but disrupted the streetscapes both of Prince Street and Howland Avenue. In the end, however, the church prevailed on those two matters, though it backed off from demolishing a house it owned on 3 Mozart Avenue. (Mary Ann Bragg, “Church Plan Prevails, Amid Discord,” The Provincetown Banner, 22 June 2006.)
In a church whose legacy was in the fishery and whose patron was a fisherman, there was no question that the motifs would evoke the sea. “We wanted to maintain a simplicity in design, with a nautical or fishing-type theme,” Palanza said. (Eric Williams, “New St. Peter Church Plans Presented,” The Cape Cod Times, 23 April 2006.)
The new stained-glass windows were made by New England Stained Glass of North Attleboro, founded in 1975 by James J. Donahue Jr. and Albert Lapierre. The principal windows, forming an oblique angle in the chancel, depict the story of Peter’s short-lived walk on the water, as did Eugene Sparks’s mural in the original church. In these windows, however, Peter is almost immersed, whereas Sparks depicted him just before he began to sink. Here is the narrative, Matthew 14:22-33, from the New Revised Standard Version, Catholic Edition:
“Immediately he made the disciples get into the boat and go on ahead to the other side, while he dismissed the crowds. And after he had dismissed the crowds, he went up the mountain by himself to pray. When evening came, he was there alone, but by this time the boat, battered by the waves, was far from the land, for the wind was against them. And early in the morning he came walking toward them on the sea. But when the disciples saw him walking on the sea, they were terrified, saying, ‘It is a ghost!’ And they cried out in fear. But immediately Jesus spoke to them and said, ‘Take heart, it is I; do not be afraid.’
Peter answered him, ‘Lord, if it is you, command me to come to you on the water.’ He said, ‘Come.’ So Peter got out of the boat, started walking on the water, and came toward Jesus. But when he noticed the strong wind, he became frightened, and beginning to sink, he cried out, ‘Lord, save me!’ Jesus immediately reached out his hand and caught him, saying to him, ‘You of little faith, why did you doubt?’ When they got into the boat, the wind ceased. And those in the boat worshiped him, saying, ‘Truly you are the Son of God.’”
Peter is also seen in the vestibule on the west side of the nave, opposite Our Lady of Fatima. The likeness of the saint, which was salvaged from the old church, holds a scroll with the words, “Tu es Petrus, et super hanc petram aedificabo ecclesiam meam.” These words also appear in English, inscribed on the 7,000-pound granite altar: “Thou art Peter, and upon this rock I will build my Church.”
While the building has a footprint about 10 percent larger than the earlier church, it has a little less seating, with room for 440 people, down from 500. The project cost $4.3 million, about three-quarters financed by insurance proceeds and one-quarter raised by the church in a capital campaign. The Knights of Columbus donated $120,000 for the stained glass and crucifix. (Pru Sowers, “The Rebirth of St. Peter’s Church,” The Provincetown Banner/Wicked Local, 6 July 2008.) Construction of the church began in October 2006, 10 months after the fire, and was substantially completed in June 2008, in time for St. Peter’s to reclaim its 60-year-old role as the spiritual home of the Blessing of the Fleet.
Fisherman’s Mass, 26 June 2011